Monday 30 October 2023

Establishment Politics Vs Palestine Solidarity

Speaking on the radio saying you support Israel's right to stop food, water, fuel, and other essentials from flowing into Gaza and then, nine days later, denying you'd never said such a thing does not tarnish the reputation of the Labour Party. But if you're a left wing MP at a Palestinian solidarity rally and you call for peace, that is a suspendable offence.

Welcome to the topsy turvy world of Keir Starmer's Labour Party, where down is up, imperialism is internationalism, and abiding by establishment group think is courageous. We can now add Andy McDonald's suspension to this list of shame. Except in this case it is almost beyond farce. Andy was kicked out because, apparently, The Times reported his speech at Saturday's demo in London as repeating "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free". A slogan some object to because, they argue, it has antisemitic intent. That this myth persists despite comprehensive debunking suggests those repeating the charge are either ignorant or mischievous. Nevertheless Andy was given the heave ho ... and then it turned out he said no such thing. As John McDonnell notes, Andy said "We won"t rest until we have justice, until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea can live in peaceful liberty." And The Times agreed, publishing a retraction. He's been thrown out the parliamentary party pending an investigation into remarks he did not make. More embarrassment for Starmer, if he wasn't already among the most shameless politicians in British politics.

Starmer's dishonesty was matched only by our beloved Home Secretary, Suella Braverman. On Monday morning Rishi Sunak chaired a meeting of COBRA amid "concerns" that extremism was on the march. You might recall that Braverman has been banging the drum on this for a while, previously asserting that the Palestinian national flag was a hateful symbol. In her interview with Sky News, she said the last few weekends have been hijacked by tens of thousands of people chanting for "the erasure of Israel from the map". A demonstrable lie. She goes on to describe them as "hate marches" and as such the police need to take a "zero tolerance approach to antisemitism". I suppose Braverman is disappointed that the "operationally independent" plod arrested just five people out of a march of over 300,000 on Saturday's London demo.

What unites Starmer and Braverman is more than an elastic definition of the truth. The huge marches in most Western cities have taken our respective political and media establishments by complete surprise. This is as true of Britain as anywhere else. With Corbynism effectively chased out of the Labour Party, Scottish nationalism and the SNP taking a hammering through electoral reverse and internal discord, and with the political peace suffering infrequent disruption by Just Stop Oil actions, there was reason to believe the shocks of recent years had gone away and managerial business as usual could be resumed. There was zero expectation that Israel's predictable bloody reply to the 7th October attacks would provoke a mobilisation larger than the usual suspects. Instead, with horror, a mass movement has materialised seemingly from nowhere and as the slaughter continues the numbers on the streets keep growing. A rude reminder that mainstream politics has no line to or purchase on the everyday lives and attitudes of masses of people.

As such, this has provoked two heavy-handed establishment responses. Those who maligned Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters as antisemitic are working overtime to delegitimate Palestinian solidarity as a de facto racist endeavour, and have been shocked to find their hyperbole and dishonest attacks are not working - except for inciting a furious and mocking pushback. The second is to threaten an authoritarian crack down. It's interesting that Braverman, for example, is not pushing for legislation despite the vituperative cadence of her slanders. That might prove too much for some Tories, as well as raise the political stakes. We've seen how Macron has lost face as solidarity demonstrations carried on in defiance of his bans, despite heavy police violence. Reflex authoritarians like Sunak and Braverman would not relish being so humbled. And if the police get stuck in against really large marches, there's the possibility of further disorder, loss of police and state legitimacy, and a chance the movement could expand to link up with other concerns and grievances. They don't know what to do. Doing nothing and the discontent grows. Come in with the size nines and dissent could explode and get very messy.

While Palestinian solidarity has put British foreign policy and the complicity of both parties under the microscope, at this moment one should not overstate its impact on politics. What is spooking the government and opposition most is the overnight appearance of a mass movement and its potential to challenge their way of doing things. What they take solace from is how public opinion finds sympathies more or less evenly split but with a majority being both sides and don't knows, and that the damage of spurning Labour's Muslim base is more anecdotal than statistical. At least according to the recent surveys with representative samples. If Labour's support was in free fall alongside a reviled Tory party, then establishment politics would be in trouble. But it's not, at the moment. That could change, and the suspension of Andy McDonald might make that worse.

The most likely way our rulers will head off a crisis of legitimacy is to try and wait the movement out. No movement can sustain the pitch of mass mobilisations indefinitely, and the political establishment with its centuries of received experience knows this better than most. And the Tories have had some success with this approach in the latest round of industrial disputes. As the bombs continue falling and the United States are supporting Israel's ethnic cleansing efforts, there will be protests and oher actions. When they stop, and they will eventually stop, the Tories and the Labour leadership are banking on Palestine fading from the news schedules and the limited bandwidth available for live concerns. Things can go back to normal, they always do. The problem with this is yes, they're right, but Labour generally and Starmer in particular has lost standing not just among Muslims but the not inconsiderable progressively-inclined sections of his natural support. It's long been the argument around these parts that Starmerism has been dispersing the voter coalition bequeathed Labour by the Corbyn years. This won't matter before the election as the anti-Tory sentiment will carry him to Number 10, but afterwards it could rapidly disintegrate because Starmer is offering little. The legacy of carrying on resisting the calls for a ceasefire won't be despondency, but a quiet hostility that could easily explode further down the line.

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Anonymous said...

I generally agree, but Starmer may have crossed the Rubicon with his endorsement of cutting off water and power to Palestinian civilians. Blair has never been forgiven for weapons of mass destruction lies. Starmer may never recover from his hideous LBC utterances.

David Lindsay said...

Rishi Sunak should be invited to condemn the statement, "We won't rest until we have justice, until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea can live in peaceful liberty." Keir Starmer has done so by withdrawing the whip from Andy McDonald, who should announce his candidacy for Mayor of the Tees Valley. Woman of the Day, Louise Ellman, should be asked to list her achievements in 22 years as the MP for one of the safest seats in the House.

And recalling the implicit suggestion that there were more Trotskyists in Britain than people in the Army, since that many had voted for Jeremy Corbyn to be Leader of the Labour Party, Suella Braverman should be made to explain what she thought that half a million Hamas supporters in London alone, with a million or more in the country as a whole, had been doing hitherto. As, again, should Starmer.

McIntosh said...

It is astonishing that being a grown up politician and a statesman or woman involves approving of a nuclear state bombing an enclave to dust and killing 400+ children a day. Presumeably if you can unwaiveringly support the deaths of 1000 children a day you would be even more of a stateeperson and even more grown up. Long live 'student politicians' who want a ceasefire.

As for Sulla, her only instinct seems to be to go for the most extreme and authoritarian response to an issue. Is she positioning hersellf to replace Sunak by sweeping up the crypto fascist vote amongst the constituency parties? Her favourite British values must be intolerance and cruelty.

Sean Dearg said...

I suspect that Cruella has as much chance of being PM as Phil does. She wants to be leader of the Tory party, and that might happen, but for her to be elected as PM would require a lot of very unlikely ducks to goose-step into a rally.

I'd vote for Phil, by the way.

JN said...

Sunak and Starmer could literally swap places without anything changing.

Calling a demonstration demanding a ceasefire a "hate-march" is straight out of George Orwell, or maybe Joseph Heller. War is peace, and apparently vice versa, and Catch 22 says if you don't support Netanyahu and Ben Gvir then you're an antisemite (even if you're Jewish). It's insane.